City Housing Court Judge Henry Nowak Jr. continues to be a ray of sunshine for a city that has been beleaguered by dilapidated houses, declining neighborhoods and absentee landlords. Nowak deserves the praise that has come his way. His work supports community leaders in their ongoing effort to clean up their neighborhoods.
Since taking the bench in January 2003, Nowak has imposed more fines than his predecessors had in the previous four years combined. Fines by the judge totaled nearly $1 million last year. And through August of this year, he had imposed more than $2.2 million in fines. Compare that with 1998 to 2002 -- before Nowak's time on the bench -- when Housing Court fines had totaled $525,712.
What made the difference? Nowak suggested changing the building inspectors' complaint form to indicate a violation "from" a certain date. Prior to the change, the maximum fine for each violation was $1,500. Now, it's $1,500 per violation per day. Makes a big difference. This is especially effective when it comes to out-of-state banks and lending institutions. The message: Buffalo is not the place in which to conduct shady business practices.
Nowak has also done a service by sentencing defendants or, what some might consider slumlords, to community service. He makes them pick up garbage, paint houses, build porches and plant flowers. They're made to clean up the mess they helped to create. Sort of reminiscent of the 1991 movie, "The Super," in which Joe Pesci's slumlord character is forced by a court to live in one of his filthy buildings. Well, close enough.
Nowak's efforts reach far beyond monetary judgments and into the hearts and minds of anyone planning to harm neighborhoods. He's sending the right message.